Monthly Archives: April 2005

Critical (Violent) Mass or how a group of bicyclists alienated me

I’m a huge fan of bicycles and i do miss living in Amsterdam where that is culturally supported form of transportation. The hills in SF, the distance of my commute and the lack of infrastructure support demotivate me from even thinking about biking as transport in SF. That said, i love my public transit.

Last night, around 7.45, i started my car for the first time in over a month because the quantity of grocery shopping necessary would require a car (even though its only 6 blocks away). On the way out, i hit Critical Mass.

Now, i have nothing but appreciation for folks taking to the streets to demand infrastructure support and i love the idea of Critical Mass. Every time i’ve seen them before, they slow down traffic as they go about their route, but this situation was different. I was halfway through the intersection at Church and Market when two guys biked in front of me and stoppped, forcing me to take to my breaks. They started yelling at me and then one asked me if i was smoking a joint. I rolled my eyes and him and said of course not; Jo gave a cigarette to another guy. They had also stopped the cab next to me in the middle of the street, screamed circle and began circling and screaming at both of us.

Needless to say, this aggravated the passenger of the cab and the cab driver and i had the same uncomfortable feeling about being illegally in the middle of a major intersection with no ability to get off to a side. The bicyclists started yelling at the passenger saying that they did this every month and he should find another route and he should just be patient and make his life easier and he started yelling back, telling them that they have their rights but if they want him to take an alternate route, let him get out of the intersection. They were screaming past each other.

About 5+ minutes later, on the other side of the street, another car was stuck in the middle of the intersection. They started screaming at him and he decided he was going to push through and get the fuck out of the intersection. A group picked up their bicycles and started pounding them on the car, hitting the car, kicking the car and from it looks like, hitting the driver through his window. I called 911, reported an assault and told them to get a police officer there immediately; the guy who was right out of my window screamed disperse.

The language and tone used by the bicyclists at Critical Mass had a level of aggression to it that was just terrifying. It’s like what you see when police officers breathe power and spit it out at you. It is everything scary about crowd behavior.

On the Critical Mass website under “Testosterone Brigade,” it says For some bicyclists, Critical Mass is an opportunity to berate motorists, now that WE own the road for once. Our society’s over-reliance on motorized traffic is a massive and overwhelming social problem, and it won’t be changed through the use of bitchy, ineffective tactics by a small minority of pissed-off bicyclists. But a movement for change based on a reclaiming of public space and the building of human community, open to people from across the social and political spectrum, could contribute to a deeper and more fundamental change in the way our society operates.

After my experience yesterday, i would never support Critical Mass. I saw a level of aggression and potential danger that is precisely antithetical to any public space takeover that i can value. There was no need for aggression. I thought Critical Mass was supposed to be a process of taking to the streets and riding at bike speed down busy streets, not collectively taking over intersections, circling cars and screaming at them. I don’t see how people think they will gather support through aggression and goddess knows they just alienated me permanently. And i’m a bike lover, public transit supporter.

::sigh:: Why is it that the protesters for the movements i believe in always alienate me?

a crises in perception

On the way to school, i was listening to Eminem’s Hallie’s Song and it made me start thinking about the construction of celebrity, the management of frontstage/backstage and the identity crises that occurs around perception.

People make jokes, cuz they don’t understand me
They just don’t see my real side
Now you probly get this picture from my public persona
That I’m a pistol-packing drug-addict who bags on his momma,
But I wanna just take this time out to be perfectly honest
Cuz there’s a lot of shit I keep bottled that hurts deep inside o’ my soul

If you follow Goffman, everyone has a tension between the frontstage (that which they show publicly) and the backstage (that which is reserved). This is where a lot of the public/private persona negotiation comes into play. Yet, it is always assumed that access to the backstage is inherently privileged, deeply desirable. Of course, this gets magnified in celebrity culture.

What fascinates me about Eminem’s lyrics is a phrasing that i hear so often – the “you don’t understand.” When i was a kid, i used to scream this at my mother and she would roll her eyes at me and tell me that she did, that she was once a kid too and i would stomp off. I think about all of the bloggers that i’ve interviewed who have audiences larger than their friend groups and how they whine about being misinterpreted by their readers, about not being truly understood. The idea of not being understood is endemic and often comes out in the form of identity battle – this isn’t really who i am. It comes out when the mirror doesn’t match the internal image. This is inherently the tension in Ani DiFranco’s lyrics – the tension between how she is perceived and how she sees herself. It is a tension that i hear more and more but i don’t truly understand the root.

With both kids and celebrity, i think that the problem partially lies in the idea that the performance is being interpreted not in the performer’s terms but in the terms of the audience. Adults typically read youth as “young adults” – a population who has just not yet matured and will one day see the way. [Barrie Thorne does an amazing job of challenging this and arguing for conceptualizing kid/youth culture on kid/youth terms.] But in the typical American construction of both populations, there’s a deep desire to reread kids/celebrities from the perspective of the audience, as though they owe something to the audience – the future, entertainment, etc. The failure to own their own voice, to have their voices represent something larger than life alienates the individual, makes them feel nonexistent. When people speak about not being understood, their referencing how they feel objectified and othered.

There’s a tension in having a voice. On one hand, people want their opinions and thoughts to have agency, to speak to a broad set of issues, to represent groups of people. On the other, they want to be voicing their own stories, not just being an icon for a broader population. This tension is difficult to resolve because it’s simultaneously empowering and disempowering.

Warhol used to talk about how everyone would have 15 minutes of fame. The construction of fame requires that people will be the object of fascination to a large audience, the “masses.” Such fame means that the individual’s voice will begin to represent something, to be disembodied. People will have to struggle with being interpreted from a different perspective, having their words read in the terms of the audience not in terms of intention. Would such fame lead to an increase in the you don’t understand me crises? What does this mean on an individual and cultural level?

What is the value of this emotional state, this frustration over not being understood? Where does it come from? What do people gain from it or why do they let themselves get trapped in it? Certainly, audiences think that individuals are self-absorbed when they bitch about being misunderstood. This, of course, only magnifies the crises. So what does it mean?

i am not an angry girl
but it seems like i’ve got everyone fooled
every time i say something they find hard to hear
they chalk it up to my anger
and never to their own fear
– Ani, Not a Pretty Girl

life in the circus ain’t easy
but the folks on the outside don’t know
the tent goes up and the tent comes down
and all that they see is the show
– Ani, Freakshow

teen panel at CFP

I forgot to re-cap the teen panel at Computers, Freedom and Privacy last week due to traveling. I had an absolute blast. The teens were chosen based on their comfort with speaking on stage and their ability to articulate their thoughts and reflect on the attitudes of their peers. They were by no means “average” teens but their perspective was so valuable for helping folks think about their constructions of privacy. Plus, i absolutely adored talking to them. Late night IM sessions planning the panel, goofy conversations on the floor of the conference hall that often emerged from someone saying “well, duh, everyone knows that” and me going “umm… actually, i’d bet that lots of folks here *don’t* know that.”

Although i haven’t read it, Wired seems to have a transcript from the event. To paraphrase one of my favorite interactions that occurred:

me: so, how much do you use file-sharing these days?
teens: not much… everyone seems to say it’s illegal and there’s definitely a bit of fear
me: so do you buy CDs now?
teens: definitely not
me: how do you get your music?
teens: we go over to others’ houses and copy music from their computers or make ripped CDs for each other or….

There were lots of conversations about how whenever industry or adults try to make it difficult for teens to do certain things, they always figure out how to do what they want anyhow. The thing about file-sharing kills me though because it reminds me that the sharing of music is still, always was and always will be a sociable process, shared between friends. Just because we’re trying to put locks on the ability to trade music doesn’t mean we haven’t always done this and won’t continue to do so. I remember the art of tape-recording from the radio station to make perfect mixed tapes for friends. Same practice, new technology.

prix ars electronica

I’ve reviewed papers, run workshops, juried for things online but never have i found jurying to be so stimulating as my experience this week at Prix Ars Electronica. Last year, when i saw the call for submissions for the digital communities category, i was utterly frustrated. While i have not resolved all of my frustrations with the call, i have come to see the value of the Prix for what it does do; i still think that the call needs to be changed to more appropriately manage expectations and make transparent intentions and process.

I suspect that it was my vocalization of discontent last year that allowed me to participate this year. Of course, the fact that someone was listening and willing to take seriously my concerns warms my heart deeply. But what i gained from this week had little to do with simply being taken seriously in my disagreements. Here was an environment where people from around the world gathered to decide how to reward practices and projects of varying types.

In our category, we were concerned with digital communities and we struggled to discuss what it meant to be a digital community, with what should be honored and valued. Joi warned me that it would be like negotiating treaties at the UN – we all had a political interest at the core of our beliefs, a value that what made digital communities important was that they enabled freedom in its broadest sense, but we all had different perspectives on how to value or support different projects. We spent a huge part of our week discussing values and politics, trying to suss out how we could acknowledge different groups. For example, there are a million vibrant communities – how can we reward one over the other? Should it be about their vibrancy? Their goals? Instead, we decided that there needed to be something innovative about their practices, something that really altered the way one should think about communities and may even be useful for other groups to know and emulate. We discussed the pros and cons of supporting different kinds of endeavors, the potential complications that could occur. (Last year, when the Prix awarded a group in Zimbabwe, they lost all of their outside funding.)

We had a long conversation about what it means to think about two axes – the process of giving people access and the process of allowing people to make their voices heard. So much of what we considered sat in this narrative. We talked about technologies themselves vs. the communities that take the technologies to a newer, deeper level. We talked about work from around the world that fit into so many different cultural contexts with so many different languages.

Outside of the jury room, we discussed globalization and community development, the history of Silicon Valley and the culture of fear, the ways in which governments can benefit or devastate local communities. I met some amazing people that i never knew who were able to give me such different perspectives on the world.

Rent a German

Drop in by a German by chance will surprise your friends, neighbours or family. During Shopping, at a bar, nighclub or at home. They will be impressed.

Here’s a site where you can Rent-A-German for various needs: business, family, holiday.

David U., 82 (Denver):
I hadn’t seen a German since my time in World War II. I cried, it was such an emotional experience. We ate “Heidelberger Bergklosse” together every evening and have been writing each other once a month since he left. He’s become a real friend to me.

it’s real!!

OMG. It’s real. I’m *FINALLY* taking a proper vacation. ::bounce::

May 29 – June 20 … Thailand!
[conference in NYC]
June 27 – July 2 … Family time!


I haven’t had a day off in months nor a vacation in years (and never more than a few days). I kept meaning to take one (and y’all have done wonders at giving me inspirational sites). But now it is real. (Translation: tickets have been purchased.)

If anyone has advice for Thailand, let me know. My intention is to have a vacation full of beach, yoga, meditation, massage, scuba diving and visiting monastaries. The goal is complete and utter relaxation which will be measured by the distance between my shoulders and my ears.

Oh… and a warning… Because the idea of coming home to 20,000 emails terrifies the living shit out of me, i’ve also decided that i’m going to bounce all emails during that period (or send them to /dev/null). I need to get the weight of email hell off of my back.

OMG. OMG. OMG. ::bounce::bounce::

my own linking practices

I posted Shelley’s hysterical essay Guys Don’t Link to Misbehaving, including this great passage:

“Shelley, to a woman, a link is a way of connecting and being connected. To hearing and being heard. But not so for a guy. Guys see links as power, and therefore something precious, and to be protected. They hold on to their links as tightly, and as lovingly, as a thirsty drunk holds onto a bottle.”

A friend of mine was alarmed and told me that Shelley was mistaken and that he links more frequently to women than to men. There’s no doubt that Shelley’s parody emphasized the male-male linking patterns. I have no doubt that male bloggers link to women, but i wonder in what numbers. I mean, blogrolls tend to be very male and i assume that homophily works pretty effectively. I also wonder how many posts people post without any links whatsoever or without any links to people/blogs.

I decided to count my last 30 posts to see what my own numbers were.

  • men: 14 (6 are from the post on WordPress; 3 are from defense of BB)
  • women: 0
  • FTM: 1
  • unknown: 1
  • news: 5
  • events: 8
  • projects: 4
  • other: 4
  • me: 3
  • posts with no links: 7
  • posts w/ links that aren’t to any people/blogs: 21 (links to my department, DJs, books, CFPs, etc.)


Update: Kevin asked me if my links to men were in agreement with what they said.

  • agreement: 1
  • disagreement: 7
  • reference: 3
  • support: 1
  • repost (w thanks): 2

Hmm again….

BlogHer Conference

The BlogHer Conference has been announced and registration is currently open. I want to see this conference be as diverse as possible – diverse along every axes imaginable. I need your help in organizing women bloggers from around the world with a million perspectives to attend. I’m also interested in adding things to the conference that will meet the needs of different types of women. For me, the goal of this conference is to build social solidarity amongst women. If you have ideas, please let me know.

But please spread the word. The key to success for this event is to get as many different women on board as possible.

There are some scholarships available and i’m hoping that we can find ways to fly women around the world in. Also, if you have any leads to making this possible, please let me know!

computers, freedom and privacy

I remember hearing about computers, freedom and privacy (CFP) years ago but deciding that i couldn’t stomache the heavy libertarian rhetoric. I didn’t like the idea of choirs preaching at each other. Interestingly, i think that the committee realized that this was happening because they decided that they needed to diversify the event, add different perspectives. I’m going to have the honor of moderating a teen panel on Friday where teens can offer their opinions on privacy issues. It should be super fun and i’m totally looking forward to it.

In general, CFP looks really interesting this year. If you’re in or around Seattle next week, you should definitely check it out.